Are Uber drivers operating illegally in Vancouver? City attorney says yes

VANCOUVER, Wash. - An increasing number of people are ditching driving in favor of sharing rides. But a debate is brewing over "Uber X," a nation-wide car-for-hire company now rolling out in Oregon and Washington.

City officials in Vancouver want to put the brakes on the service.

The Uber concept is simple. Anyone with a four-door, newer model car, insurance, and a clean driving record can apply to be a driver.

People who need rides register through a smartphone app. With a few swipes of a finger, the passenger gets a text confirming the ride order, and a driver shows up in minutes.

KATU's Hillary Lake used the Uber ap to get a ride from Vancouver's City Hall. A driver named Philip showed up two minutes later.

Philip started driving for Uber a month ago.

"It gives me the flexibility in choosing how I want to work," he said. "My customers are nice to work with, which makes my day awesome."

Philip has been deaf since birth. He said he became an Uber driver because taxi drivers have discriminated against him.

"I'd like to add that I have unique experiences, which allows me to offer accommodations for people with disabilities," he said.

Uber calls itself a "ride-share service," not a taxi company. Uber spokeswoman Eva Behrend wouldn't say how many drivers have signed up in Vancouver.

Brent Boger, assistant city attorney for Vancouver, believes Uber drivers aren't following city ordinance.

"They aren't complying with our taxi ordinance and our taxi ordinance would treat them as an ordinary, a regular taxi company," Boger said.

Boger said there is no ordinance on the books that says people cannot transport other people in their personal vehicles. The deal-breaker is the exchange of money.

Boger said the Uber app, which registers mileage and fees, functions like a taxi meter. That makes Uber a taxi company, even though drivers are self-employed.

Philip said he didn't know there was an issue.

"If Uber is doing this business illegally, I shall not be responsible only because I am unaware of this," he said.

Philip plans to keep driving until someone makes him stop.

"If it's true I'd want to refrain in order to comply with the law," he said.

Boger said the city might eventually crack down on Uber drivers. He said it will be hard, but it's not off the table.

In the meantime, Uber has no plans to close business in Vancouver.

"Vancouver residents and visitors rely on Uber for safe, affordable and reliable transportation. We look forward to continuing to provide the people of Vancouver with the Uber they know and love, as we work with state officials on developing sensible regulations," Behrend said in a statement to KATU News.

Portland is the only large city in the country to keep Uber out because of taxi laws.

The company worked with Seattle city leaders to develop regulations there. Salem leaders held a meeting with Uber representatives on Wednesday to discuss "illegal" operations there. Read more about Uber coming to our area here.

Boger said the Vancouver City Council might take up changing its taxi ordinance in the future to allow Uber to operate legally in the city.